Don't encourage them

20th April 2012 at 01:00

We have just had a run of inspirational school assemblies promoting perseverance. These invariably feature a video clip of a beaten-down bloke triumphing over adversity that reduces Year 7 to tears. Sometimes the bloke triumphs over adversity with the help of his dad, which has the teachers in floods of tears. Usually the clip is accompanied by the strains of Westlife's You Raise Me Up and the sight of a Year 10 dance group forming a human pyramid with the skinniest dancer wavering precariously on top.

Athlete Derek Redmond remains the undisputed star of the school's stash of persistence porn. The remarkable footage of him leaning on his dad during the 1992 Olympic 400m semi-final does it every time. But there are others. Every week we are shown more evidence of the indomitability of the human spirit: chaps born with no limbs; chaps born with a full set of limbs but who lose them in horrible accidents; and chaps who hack off their own legs at the first sign of inclement weather. It's like the principal is saying, "Compared with amputating your arm with a hoof pick, raising controlled assessment folders into Cs should be a piece of piss."

Injured sportsmen are always the focus of these gatherings; there are more crippled athletes in school assemblies than there are reruns of The Bourne Identity. The interesting thing is that it's only ever men we see overcoming adversity, which suggests one of two things: women are either much better at avoiding it or our assemblies are institutionally sexist. Seeing as I managed to lose both my parents, all four grandparents and have my home repossessed by the time I hit 32, I suspect the latter is true.

It seems bizarre that we spend so much time eradicating gender bias in the classroom but give it pride of place in our assemblies. Dance troupes and the Virgin Mary aside, the only time women make a guest appearance is when the PR woman from the local hospice is presented with a giant cheque.

It's not that I have anything against men behaving boldly, but I'm not sure it's a reliable strategy for the future. That pioneering spirit may have tamed the Wild West, but it also gave us the banking crisis.

Anyway, admiring men for winning races, climbing mountains or crossing the Atlantic in a pedalo is the same as congratulating women for their ability to buy shoes. It does not demonstrate men's persistence; it's simply what they like doing.

Give any bloke the choice between taking a punnet of mouldy strawberries back to Tesco or swimming the Channel covered in lard and he would be straight into his Speedos. If we keep praising men for what they do naturally, they will soon be expecting a round of applause for popping to BQ or having a morning erection. It would be better to praise their perseverance in doing something they find difficult, like folding the washing or listening to others.

We don't need to encourage any more heroic male behaviour. AE departments are choked with blokes clutching bloody thumb stumps and bulging hernias because they tried to plasterboard ceilings single-handed or lift cookers on their own. Besides, schools already have enough back-slapping, marathon-running, Munro-bagging role models among their senior managers. It's time for a new breed of hero: bin the Virgin Marys and bring in the new Madonnas. To echo Virginia Woolf, we need to have an assembly of our own.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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